Cynics, Sociopaths & Garden-Variety Azzholes

Monday, 12:48pm
Reno, NV
Use all your well-learned politics, or I’ll lay your soul to waste.” (Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil”)


Today, I’m gonna share with you one of the nastiest, yet most valuable lessons you’ll ever get in your career.

It’s all about the firestorm of conflicting personality types you’ll encounter in the Big Game O’ Biz. It took me ages to figure all this out (and get it into a simple concept that’s easily explained)… and many, many times it has saved my butt from disaster.

This is the mostly hidden part of being in business. The other fundamentals… honing your skills, dealing with technology, managing moolah… all seem to be fairly straightforward.

If only we didn’t have to deal with human beings to get through the day, everything would be just dandy.

However, sizzling underneath every interaction with another Shaved Ape lies a volcanic pit of emotional, physiological/biological, intellectual and metaphysical goo. Experienced professionals intuitively learn to negotiate this roiling obstacle, eventually… but usually can’t explain what they’re doing. They rely on a code of ethics, first, that eliminates or salvages biz relationships with the most common kinds of crooks and monsters out there.

However, waiting for the other guy to violate your code before jettisoning him from your life means you’re a punching bag while the truth about the human capacity for evil slowly dawns on you. (And most folks never really understand any of this. Which is why the neighbors of the freshly-caught serial killer always express disbelief — “He seemed like a nice guy. Always mowed his lawn. Sure, there were screams from the basement sometimes, but…”)

I studied this stuff — and figured it out — only because I was completely on my own in the early part of my career as a freelance copywriter (where I constantly dealt with new people, and needed all the insight to make quick-yet-correct decisions I could muster). I had a smidgeon of a hint, through an otherwise-worthless psychology degree I snagged in my youth…

… but the real breakthrough came because my quest to become an expert in salesmanship forced me to go deep with how people actually react to a sales pitch. This was my introduction to “street level psychology”… which is as real as you’re gonna get when dealing with people. No academic BS here. This is all about the reality of human-to-human interaction.

My homework included interviewing old-school door-to-door salesmen, studying lots of True Crime books (my favorite: “What Cops Know”), devouring the better gritty novelists (like Joseph Wambaugh, former police detective, and Thomas Harris, “Silence of the Lambs”), while emersing my head in pop behavioral psychology discoveries.

Plus, of course, road-testing everything in the real world as I scored new gigs.

My first lesson: To be a good salesman, you no longer have the luxury of believing the standard-issue nonsense about Life In The Concrete Jungle. You can’t look at the world the way you wish it was, or believe it should be. Instead…

… you deal with how things really are. You observe how people actually behave, regardless of what they say they’ll do, or what they insist are their values.

This can be a shock, at first. We really do have one foot still in the jungle. There is a meta-game going on during every interaction with another human, both consciously and unconsciously — what we say is often cloaked code for what we’ll actually DO (whether we’re lying or believe our own BS whole-heartedly). We ALL strive for respect, abundance, a clear role in the hierarchy, safety and insider knowledge. (This translates, loosely, to greed, fear and gossip.) Not to mention our inherent laziness and aversion to taking responsibility for our actions.

And we are taught to ignore, deny and pretend otherwise. Nope, no duplicity going on here. Move along, nothing to see here.

However — and this is important — shifting your viewpoint to one based in reality does NOT mean you need to be become cynical or a bastard in order to thrive and succeed in biz and life.

On the contrary — once you allow reality to settle in as your main operating system, you can put some real teeth into your integrity, ethics and desire to work fairly in the business world.

You just no longer walk into the dark alleys of life like vulnerable prey.

Removing your wishful goggles allows you to be the kind of ethical warrior who can win. And, rather than despise people for their selfishness and pettiness and fearfulness… you can actually begin to love them for who they really are. Most folks stumble through life half-asleep, easily conned by the happy masks others use to obscure their real intentions. Hating them for this tendency does nothing positive. Understanding their state of mind beneath the mask they present to the outside world, though, changes everything.

Good salesmen, I’ve discovered, actually lead better lives. Because they have to deal with the world as it is, not as they wish it was… and while it’s a bit more work to always be looking behind the masks and reading the meta-text behind all language, once you’ve tasted raw reality, it’s the only way to live.

There’s a library-sized batch of knowledge that comes with being a good entrepreneur…

… but in this post, I’m only gonna deal with the dark side of interpersonal relationships (like the ones you have with clients, prospects, colleagues and competitors). I’ll try to make it short and sweet:

Dark-Side Insight #1: If you are an ethical, rational actor in the game of business (or in life)…

… then you’re operating with 2 strikes already against you. Unless you are fully aware of how your fellow actors are behaving.

Now, everything I’m about to share with you must be balanced against a fundamental truth about business: There is zero need, in our huge economy, to be evil in order to achieve success.

In fact, in the forward to “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” (grab a copy here), I state emphatically that I hope anyone taking the advice I offer and using it for unethical purposes… rots in Hell.

Get straight on this now: Initial persuasion tactics can work whether you have a good product or a shitty one. However, continued back-end sales (and the “lifetime value” of a new customer) rely on you offering quality stuff. And, since the back-end is where the real money is, it makes no rational sense to choose to have a shitty product to begin with.

Still, at the end of the day, what really counts is that it’s gonna be just you and your conscience trying to get to sleep.

That’s almost the first rule of understanding human behavior: If you’re ashamed of anything you’re doing, then STOP fucking doing it.

Having a good product or service is zero guarantee you’ll succeed. You still have to implement your biz plan, and follow through on your sales funnels. However, when you DO have a good product, you can go full-board on aggressively-successful marketing… knowing you’re performing a service to your fellow humans, providing value, and supporting our shaky civilization and economy. And sleeping well at night.

At first, I couldn’t understand why anyone would CHOOSE to have a shitty product, when there was no inherent reward for doing so in a marketplace that rewards quality.

And yet, the world remained crammed with snake oil and BS and scams.

Which lead me to…

Dark-Side Insight #2: The biz world is not black-and-white.

It’s very nuanced, which is a royal pain in the ass. It would be so cool if there were just good people, and bad people, and you got to choose freely who you worked with (or lived amongst).

But that ain’t the case. In fact, until you get hip to the variety of personalities out there, you’re gonna be conned, disappointed, and even hurt… because the worst of the bad actors LOOK for sleepy, low-information types to take advantage of. They catch you in their sites, they’re happy, and you’re meat.

Here are the 3 main categories I suggest you get familiar with, explained in a quick-guide format:

Cynics. Very high on the annoying-to-hang-out-with scale, but relatively low on the danger scale, are those people around you who are cynical. How they arrived at their cynicism is mundane — they may have been deeply hurt by having their trust violated, their heart broken, or maybe they’ve just been rewarded for being suspicious.

The main problem with cynics, if you’re an entrepreneur (or just trying to live life large), is that they bring massive quantities of Negative Energy to the game. They are pessimists, and they really want you to be one, too. They’re so paranoid that they’d prefer missing an opportunity (by being suspicious right up to the point it’s too late)… than risk being “fooled”.

They operate from the fundamental position that you are full of shit until proven otherwise. (And even then, you’re on permanent probation for life, and your “pass” can be revoked at any time if you fail to live up to the impossible standards they set.) These are the guys who scoffed at the Wright Brothers, because man can’t fly and never will. They brooded over Steve Jobs breakthroughs in tech, and rejoiced at his failures. They are positive that all business transactions are a scam, that all politicians are corrupt, and that you — yes, even kind-hearted you — would murder them in their sleep given the chance to profit from it.

The media is crammed with cynics. You can make a nice living mocking everything else other people do (witness the TV program TMZ — a bunch of losers ridiculing celebs — and most of the biz bloggers out there). Cynics usually produce nothing, provide no value, and in fact exist only to tear things down. (Hollywood movies live and die by the cynical musings of the official critics out there… a totally-misguided or envious meme can get started trashing an otherwise good movie, and kill it dead.) (The film archives are crammed with great films that never got their due, or have cult followings, or suddenly become “classics” long after the studio that put them out crashed and burned because they weren’t Box Office Gold at the time of their release. The cynics win many of their battles, because they let others take all the risks.)

They are vain losers, and work best under conditions that protect their cowardice. (To your face, nicey-nice. Behind your back, clever put-down artist.)

One of the first rules of living a good life, or of enjoying a good career…

… is to jettison the more obnoxious cynics from your inner circle.

It’s a drastic move that can alienate families and friends… but I can tell you that none of the hugely successful people I know will tolerate vicious cynics for very long. Questioning authority and assumptions is fine. Even expressing the occasional “God, they ALL suck” rant is an accepted part of associating with humans.

But the dedicated cynic brings a massive payload of bitterness, petty jealousy, and Schadenfreude (“delight in the misfortune of others”) to everything they touch. They will hate you for succeeding (cuz they never can), and rejoice in your blunders.

Gary Halbert and I developed this attitude we called “being an optimistic pessimist”… which meant we braced for the worst in any given project, rooted for the best results possible, and accepted what happened… knowing the only real measure was whether we did everything we could to make it successful.

We expected the worst from politicians and clients and lovers, and allowed ourselves to be pleasantly surprised when we got the best. We were cautiously skeptical of everything, because we knew that ideas, products, ads and professionalism had to pass muster in the real world, where not every effort is rewarded.

We were realists. But not cynical. We wanted to succeed.

A cynic hates success. They will chew through your happiness like termites on balsa wood. You don’t want them in your brainstorming mastermind groups, on your staff, or in your life if you can help it. If you can’t avoid them, try to manage them. (I enjoy confronting them with questions on what they would do in the same situation. Not what they wouldn’t do — what they would DO. This usually shuts them up… because actually sticking their necks out and attempting any proactive movement is the last thing they want. They are not players. They’re hecklers.)

Sociopaths. I know you’ve read about sociopaths before. There are currently multiple books out there by shrinks seeking to explain sociopathology to the layman… and while I haven’t read most of them, I’ve seen many of the authors interviewed, and I imagine the books are quite good.

However, most of what you discover about sociopaths is irrelevant unless you’re an FBI profiler or cop on the tail of a mass murderer.

Here is my short explanation, on how this pathology matters to regular people and entrepreneurs:

First, there is confusion (even among psychiatrists) on what a sociopath is, and how it differs (or does not differ) from a psychopath. So don’t get caught up in the intricacies of definitions. (At one point, there seemed to be a strict difference — sociopaths were like biker gangs, who just defied social norms… and psychopaths murdered people without remorse. But that’s been muddled, because exact treatment options keep coming up short. The human mind is a deep ocean of wonder and horror, and we’re nowhere near to understanding it very well yet.) The term “sociopath” seems to now be accepted as covering a wide range of dangerous minds.

So, here’s a decent “working” definition for entrepreneurs: Just consider these 3 types of sociopath…

Type #1. The “pure” sociopath, either through brain malfunction or some kind of trauma, simply has no conscience. To him, other people are just like furniture — useful at times, and nothing to get attached to. If he hurts you, it’s no big deal unless there are consequences for him. Otherwise, there is nothing in his system to make him feel guilt, or shame, or remorse at using someone, and then abandoning them when their usefulness is gone.

Emotionally, they’re flat-liners.

The “tweak” to be highly aware of here… is that because they have no scruples about taking advantage of others, they become very attuned to how charm and persuasion can be a tool for getting what they want.

So they get very, very good at it. They study human behavior (because they can’t “feel” love or hate or even simple joy), and employ every trick in the book to win favor, friendship and even the love of those they seek to use.

Apparently, pure sociopaths have always been over-represented in positions of power and influence. They’re a tiny fraction of any given general population… but because they don’t care if they hurt people (and because Nature’s got a sense of grim humor and has given them above-average intelligence), they can rise up in almost any organization without getting “outed” as a monster.

I hear that Wall Street is one big sociopath meeting ground.

So, what do you do to protect yourself? First, don’t get fooled by people with impeccable manners and loads of charm. I’ve run into more than my share of sociopaths in life, and I’ve actually enjoyed being around them (before I realized what I was dealing with)… while we were doing things they liked to do. It took me many painful years to realize that our “friendship” was really a one-way street.

Eventually, I learned a simple trick: If I suspected someone was employing charm and being fun as a tactic to get something… I proposed asking them to do something for me that held no benefit to them. This kind of request startles sociopaths — they first look for a way that faking being interested, or actually performing the “favor”, will pay off for them. Like, maybe they can use the request to further the ruse that they’re good, fun and helpful (so they can weasel their way further into the group or situation)… or by getting info they can use later to steal, cheat or otherwise benefit.

When they realize there’s nothing in it for them, they tend not to follow through. The same way they wouldn’t do a favor for a dog. And they’ve been outed.

These hard-core mofo’s are tough to identify, because they’re good at lying… and good at telling you what they think you want to hear. They’re like “Human Whisperers”… they observe humans the way horse whisperers observe and get into the heads of horses… and they can be very, very good at passing themselves off as caring, loving people.

Eventually, you’ll be able to see what happened in the rear view mirror, once they’ve tossed you aside and moved on to their next project. They don’t all murder and eat their victims. But, like Bernie Madoff and other scamsters, the carnage they create can devastate lives.

Don’t go all nutso and start imaging everyone around you is a vile sociopath looking to manipulate you. However, be aware that in business the chances are high that you’ll run into one eventually (and maybe a whole bunch of them, in certain markets).

It’s better to learn to spot them early, and avoid the chaos they sow, than to figure it out later while picking up the pieces.

Type #2: There are folks out there who do feel shame, guilt and even remorse at what they do…

… but they go ahead and do it anyway.

They may not study sociopaths, but they end up using many of the same tricks. They’re users. They can create havoc in your life, stealing your mate, embezzling from your biz, trashing your reputation for fun, working deals behind your back while insisting they’re your best pal.

They just feel bad about it later.

Here’s how to spot them: They do bad things… from petty to serious… and lapse into depression over the guilt. However, they never try to FIX what they’ve broken.

This is a case of avoiding responsibility to the nth degree… and it’s a deal-killer for anyone thinking clearly about the ramifications of associating with these types. By feeling guilty, they think they’ve paid a reasonable “penalty” for their misdeeds. The guilt is their punishment, and why are you making it worse by demanding they also make amends and pay for damages? You bad person, you.

I believe that shame does play a role in inter-personal behavior. I think we need to re-introduce some serious shaming on our political and business leaders, and I think individuals could use a dose of it when they get out of line. (Looking at you, naughty celebrities.)

Still, too much free-floating shame is counter-productive. And guilt… well, guilt is just stupid. Guilt, to me, is setting up camp on the path of life, and obsessing on something you have no control over.

The professional’s way of looking at shame and guilt is more productive: You quickly recognize when you’ve caused harm. You fix what you can, and pay what you owe, immediately. And… here’s the kicker… you TAKE PROACTIVE STEPS TO DO BETTER NEXT TIME.

You don’t promise to do better. You don’t cry and insist it was all an emotional mistake.

You actually DO better, next time. You get the education, the new skills, the obliteration of bad habits, the instilling of good new habits… whatever it takes. No matter how painful or expensive it is to create real change in your behavior (not your ability to make bigger promises)…

… that’s what you do. You actually become a better person.

I know you don’t wanna hear that. No one does — it runs counter to our essentially selfish inner-nature. But you do it anyway.

Type #3: Look, being charming, telling little white lies, manipulating others…

… we all do this to some extent in life. You smile and say nice things to loathsome relatives, you praise your boss even when you’re fairly sure he’s just said something dumb, you needle your buddies until they finally agree to help you move or attend the Big Game despite not initially wanting to.

Halbert — after realizing that doctors were treated with deference at hotels — started checking in as Dr. Finegold… a personality he created just to get past the usual bullshit he’d encountered getting things done with a hotel staff. He never pushed the concept very far, but it was stunning how much he could accomplish (like getting meals sent up faster, and phone calls put through instantly) just by letting the staff think he was a doctor. (And it didn’t always work.)

But it was an insight to how easy it can be to manipulate people when you understand human behavior… and also have persuasion skills. (Side note: We also experimented with bribes — greasing the palms of clerks, bouncers, waiters, anyone who could sneak us past the time-wasting nonsense “normal” folks had to endure. We even tested dropping names — because we actually knew celebrities, say, who frequented certain joints like Spago’s. The results are startling, if you’ve never engaged in gaming systems before. Maybe I’ll write about it in another blog rant.)

There will always be traces of sociopathology in the people you deal with, live with, and love. We’re imperfect beings, and sometimes we take shortcuts to get what we want. (Like telling the wife you’re gonna be ten minutes late for dinner, when you know damn well it’s gonna be 45 minutes… because you know you’d get an argument with the truth, and you’ll skate with the fudged number.) (God, you should feel SO guilty over shenanigans like that.)

And, if you desire success (in biz or love), you’ve just got to get hip to spotting the real monsters from the regular folks. It takes effort and practice, and also requires that YOU toe a very ethical and responsibility-oriented line of action.

And one of the hardest behavior traits to get right is how to deal with…

Assholes. If we really lived in a black-and-white world, all assholes would be bad people, to be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

The range of assholeness… let’s call it The Azzhole Scale… is so variable that it’s almost impossible to nail down.

Many of my now-best-friends in the world were, at first, huge assholes. When I first met Halbert, he was shockingly arrogant, dismissive, self-absorbed and having way too much fun screwing with people’s heads. I liked him immediately, though, because I knew something about him. I’d read his first year’s worth of newsletters, which revealed him to be a “good” kind of prick — yes, he’ll say mean things to you, but he’s harder on himself. Quick to admit when he’s wrong, eager to get to the truth in any situation, and ecstatic when he encounters someone who can give as well as they take.

We got along so well, because we both had personalities loaded with “asshole” skills — vicious wit, intelligent refusal to put up with bullshit, a vast sense of humor with big laughs even when the joke was on us.

There’s some perverse piece of wetware in our brains… that makes us abhor people at first, who we later become bosom buddies with. Like kids needing to come to throwing punches, before becoming lifelong pals.

This doesn’t mean that some of the assholes out there aren’t actually despicable, evil bastards you need to avoid at all costs.

It does, however, mean that reality is a mixed bag… and you need to stay aware your entire life, and not be quick to judge others using flawed judgement standards. One man’s jerkiness is another man’s genius. Learn to see beyond the obvious.

It’s not easy understanding the unrelenting circus-and-horror-show that is modern life.

However, if you’re gonna succeed (and win at all parts of living large and happily), you need to begin right now.

There are truly nasty folks out there you need to steer clear of, or deal with (if you can’t get away) the same way you’d deal with a poisonous viper. You don’t win by bluffing that you’re hip. You gotta play the game at the level of your opponent… and GET hip.

I hope this little starter-list of understanding your fellow players helps. Remember, the game is already afoot.

Comments welcome, as always.

Stay frosty,



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  • JC, This is great stuff.

    Especially since it helps me complete a thought that has been roaming around fuzzy in my mind for quite some time:

    All, and I mean ALL, my psychology and “human development” professors at school were either smoking crack or taking regular doses of what I like to call “Academic Prozac” — which forces them to Stay Happy with the conventional wisdom, regardless of what is swirling around them.

    I mean — Ever watch a PhD try to cross the street?

    You can go into such deep fascination just watching, as to put your own life at risk.

    Listen, this is really good stuff. Once a person gets the mindset you are talking about, it becomes a) frightening, and/or b) thrilling, to realize how few people actually watch what other people do, as opposed to seeing things they way they (most people) would like them to be.

    Frightening, because, those that don’t, are sheep standing by for the slaughter.

    Thrilling, because, man, what an advantage, once you have gone through that painful awakening.

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for the note, Garf. Yeah, I first got into psychology, half-assed, as a kid… because I was totally freaked-out about trying to operate in the adult world. (I had the kid stuff nailed, but suddenly I was in junior high and EVERYTHING changed. Whew.)

      The college-level psych stuff was disappointing almost from the get-go. In the old days, guys like Jung and Freud just observed and wrote. (And, in Sigmund’s case, handed out a lot of cocaine, just to see how it affected people.) They just made shit up, like Orgone Boxes to “trap” sexual energy. It was fun, exciting, and goofy. Then, it got codified, and suddenly people were paying thousands to lay on couches and bitch about their childhood.

      The 70s changed all that, with stuff like Rational-Emotive Therapy and NLP and Erikson’s breakthroughs in understanding human behavior. It was mostly “pop” psych, despised by academics (cuz they needed more science, so they wouldn’t feel so inferior amongst their colleagues at school, and Talk Therapy isn’t testable in lab conditions), but it WORKED. And it was SIMPLE.

      I have to keep reminding myself, dealing with people, that most folks haven’t spent their lives obsessed with how the human animal acts and reacts to reality. That’s why I get along with sales experts (who have to know this shit to thrive) and marketers. And crazy people, like artists. Only the truly deluded out there believe they’re “normal”. The misunderstood, shy folks are dazed because they actually understand what’s up, and just can’t handle the way everyone ignores reality.

      Those of us who choose to confront reality live in a different world than the vast majority of our slumbering co-inhabitants of the planet. Scary at first, but the only way to go once your eyes have been opened…

  • Scott says:

    Awesome insights John. Too many people want to make the world black and white. You are dead on with the scale analogy. People fit into different parts of that scale depending on when you meet them, how you first interact with them, etc.

    Every business person should have their eyes as wide open as yours are. It would make business much easier!!

    • John Carlton says:

      It is tough, at first, because reality goes against so much of the pre-packaged belief systems most folks labor under. So you’re faced with multiple crossroads, thinking “That can’t be right… I was taught the opposite is true…”… and breaking away from the BS of whatever version of reality you’ve been operating in up to now can be a jarring act.

      People get pissed off when their belief systems are challenged. They get vicious when those beliefs are clearly shown to be lacking. And they get depressed and scared when it dawns on them they’ve been played for a fool by institutions or society itself.

      Reality is dangerous. Leads to revolution, upheaval, consciousness-raising and all sorts of stuff that rattles the cages of people who would very much prefer NOT to have their cages rattled, thank you very much.

      Thanks for the note, Scott.

      • Sean says:

        Reality is dangerous, and it can hurt a lot. But, as Kurt Vonnegut remarked in Breakfast of Champions:

        “That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s serious, too.”

        Thanks for sharing your insight John and for keeping things both real and fun!

  • Brian McLeod says:


    This ought to be required reading for every skeptic, cynic, and armchair expert that take such great pleasure in pissing in the cornflakes of those that choose to take risks and forge their own path as entrepreneurs.

    One of the things I find most frustrating in dealing with “Muggles” is that they cling so desperately to their flawed beliefs about who and what is “bad”… completely ignoring their own culpability in that ecosystem.

    Out fooking standing.



    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks, Brain. Fat chance a cynic would recognize himself, though. Their defense systems are on full-alert at all times, keeping reality at bay.

      The clinging continues, unabated. I’m just trying to help the Awares out there get a little more aware…

  • Carl Picot says:

    Hi John

    I must say that this is pure genius… Yes the ‘shaved apes’ is a fantastic description of a species most of who will not recognise themselves as being animals!

    I recognised much of all you have said when I worked as a musician in the music business… a business that has a ‘Lawless’ personality and leads to bad people (all with nice smiles and angry tantrums if their ‘mask’ of how they were actually behaving was challenged) getting away with all sorts of unsavoury things.

    My ‘venture into the dark alleys of life’ meant I indeed ended up as vulnerable prey – most of it at the hands of people who I thought were my friends.

    Fast forward a few years and I am starting an online business with my first product based on the best value and quality that I can give.

    I am worried that my experiences of dealing with humans may echo the past … but I will never get anywhere if I don’t bite the bullet and ‘get out there’.

    I am determined that I will succeed ethically and your awesome post has given me a bit of hope not to be so scared of ‘the unrelenting circus-and-horror-show that is modern life.’ and got on with it.

    I love your genius view of life as it echos mine so closely.

    Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel has been on my shopping list for some weeks now and WILL be purchased next pay day :o)

    Thanks for a very inspiring post

    I will now stop being a Wuss!! lol


    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Carl. Nice note, full of insight. Thanks.

    • rob says:

      Hey Carl,

      John’s kick ass secrets is worth ten times the amount after getting it with the freelancer course Ive had more doors open now than I could have done before,feel little guilty for piddly amount John slugs…its well worth it my friend!

  • Normally one to crack wise, I’m left not packing the huevos to sully your treatise.

    Had all kinds of gags with disposable razors, shaving cream, and the crazed primates under my care at the Simian Research Lab ready to go. (you did bring up shaved apes, after all)

    But I’m left stunned by this piece, J.C.

    All I can summon is this: absolutely incendiary writing.

    Nothing left to do but drag my flaccid arse into the back office. There I’ll lean back in my chair and ponder this as I drift off to the soft sound of apes cooing themselves to sleep.

    Much as it should be.

    • John Carlton says:

      You ran the lab? Wow. Feel free to share any good stories here. You prolly know, Marc, that I used to take people to the ape enclosures at both the Sacto, LA and San Diego zoos (SD was the best)… and ask them if they recognized anyone in the enclosures. That’s all I’d say. My friends would look at me funny, smile and watch the apes… and then, inevitably, look kind of shocked. “That’s Bob,” they’d say, or “That’s Sue”… naming someone who bossed around others, or stole things, or who lolled around lazily… showing blatant primate characteristics that seemed to mimic folks we knew. Just the general interaction of apes with each other (and toward the leering visitors) presented massive evidence of our cousinship. My “point” was that we weren’t all that far from the jungle ourselves, despite all the steel and pavement and modern shaving gear.

      Also, I had to admit we’d stopped throwing feces, of course. Humans have developed entirely more unique (and dangerous) ways of performing that show of defiance and anger…

      Thanks for the note, Marc.

      • My time with the apes is a sore spot, John. I finally tired of watching pedestal implants and similar evil and bizarre experiments render my charges no more lucid than a Kardashian.

        Moved on to reptile venom research, chiefly because you can’t see snakes cry when you frighten them.

        Next came gag writing, then copywriting.
        What did Jerry posit in “Truckin’?” Strange don’t begin to cover it.

        As to whether we “Naked Apes” forewent shit flinging once erect and hairless. I beg to differ. Go to a local PTA or town meeting to realize otherwise.

        To all younger Carltonians: check out Desmond Morris’ book. It’s been termed a zoologist’s study of the human animal. And it’s still quite relevant some 45 years on.

  • Rob Jones says:

    I feel smarter now…and also a bit superior to those around me. Thanks for that John!

    Nice rant. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • John Carlton says:

      Not sure why you feel superior (I sense irony, of course). At the end of the day, we’re still just shaved apes pretending to live in a civilized non-jungle. Still, these little increments of understanding or insight really can multiply quickly (once you get in the groove of learning constantly and applying what you learn), and you DO start to feel smarter. More aware. More involved.

      Thanks for the note, Rob.

  • Hola amigo,

    You know, with everything I’ve learned from you, the whole “seeing the world as it is” thing is the lesson that’s most useful.

    I don’t mean just business useful either; that knowledge serves me every moment of every day. Especially whilst I’m ensconced in a foreign land with little to no grasp of the language.

    Nice work dude.


    • John Carlton says:

      Flashman — how’s Spain, now that the financial upheaval is coming down hard? You’re on the adventure of a lifetime, perhaps, even following a bit in Hemingway’s steps by going to Spain. Hope you’re stockpiling good stories — it sometimes helps, when all around you seems to be in chaos, to pretend you’re in a movie where you’ve actually got a little control over the script. You have total control over what you do and say, none over what others say (unless you persuade them to participate in your storyline), and yet every step you take is a direction to somewhere other than you’d be if you took a step in the other direction. A library of stories awaits in every direction, too.

      There are around 100 million guys who would love to be in your shoes right now… seeing the world, living deep, going for it young. Hope you’re having a blast…

  • I want to say, I have purchased one or maybe two other info products in my life and I just bought your course- fucking enthusiastically in fact.

    I wanted to say you are a rockstar-but you know that.

    Anyway, amazing post, Sociopaths are a little easier to spot after you meet the first one. They have that impossible charm that is

    SO obvious.

    also wondering if “They catch you in their sites, they’re happy, and you’re meat.” was ment to be a pun?

    Thanks, keep killing it, I know you will.

    • John Carlton says:

      Good catch, Kyle. No, it was a misspelling. I meant “sights”. It’s the fucking age of texting — I’ll blame that. Half the time I’m writing, I’m shortcutting words, using abbreviations, writing entire lines with no vowels, using code, etc.

      It would’ve been a good pun, though.

      Thanks for joining us. Hope you like the “Kick-Ass” tome…

  • Hey John,
    We met at SANG. You are a good man!

    Thanks for the post. Sociopaths are the scum of society.

    I also wrote an interesting post about “gurus in the fitness industry” who fit that bill.

    If inclined, here is the post….

  • *Love* this. Seriously.

    I know one cynic personally who is absolutely toxic… To himself. I don’t pay much attention (you can’t without getting sucked into the vortex) but I what you said about “negative energy” is putting it mildly.

    This guy is a literal shit magnet!

    You’ll watch him ramble on about how this one-in-a-million-chance-bad-thing is going to utterly destroy his life, and think to yourself “there is no way that would happen!”

    Two weeks later, there you stand in complete amazement staring at the crater that is his life, watching him puff up his shoulders with a smug grin and an “I told you so – the world is just out to get me!”

    My two favorite parts of cynics like this though – one, they are amazingly powerful at manifesting things into their lives, right down to the tiniest detail. Great to study and learn from (provided you change things up to manifest good things rather than crap storms.)

    The second thing I love is looking at it from a sociological perspective (what I studied in my younger days, while terrified of functioning as an adult myself.) Cynics adapted that way from their early conditioning to survive – probably in a cynical environment.

    They experienced from a young age that anticipating that only bad things will happen to them and dragging others down with them is actually a positive experience, and thus continued down the same road, and a lot safer than seeing potential *good* circumstances. Absolutely fascinating how someone can operate that way!

    Thanks for the reminder John.

    • Bill says:

      Yeah, I was that guy. I’m dragging my mangled carcass out of that smoking crater and it ain’t easy. I’m learning to manifest good now. But I can’t yet do it with the same alacrity I brought the wrath of God on my head.
      I’ve heard John speak of keeping the Karma squeaky clean. He knows what he’s talking about. During the dark days, I was an ER nurse and very good at the job. I’ve saved lives aplenty. And damn smug about it too. Apparently that doesn’t help. (Or if it does I guess I saved myself from an eternity as Torquemada’s butt boy.)
      “Good” acts mean nothing without good intentions. It’s your state of mind that’s important.

  • Colin Power says:

    John it seems we need to accept that the journey will change us…better or worse?

    This week a priest asked me how I coped with life as a Podiatrist in the Aged Care arena…dealing with mortality. My reply was if you are truthful you don’t…”You Burnout …more so it burns a part of you away…you are naked, ready for self inspection”.

    The shock in his eyes…then the barrier descended. He thought he was meant to cope. We’ll be having a chat soon to talk over life.

    Biz seems to burn away something but in return gives back much more if you are prepared for it…


  • That was one of the best blog posts to cross my eyes in a long time. Psychopaths and sociopaths are a big pain in the neck and usually the biggest cowards in the room. As entrepreneurs we run into these folks on average more than others, and seeing the wolf from from the sheep is where success truly is. Great rant, loved it immensely.


  • Ryan Stewman says:

    John, you are one of my all time favorite writers. I enjoy each and every one of your posts. Reading your stuff makes me a better writer, and I need all the help I can get.

    Keep ’em coming

  • Bob Baran says:

    Why is it some trusted older man, family or friend didn’t sit down with us in our formative years and share this street wisdom? I did get a bit from my Father. His was wrapped in cynicism so I had to experience for myself the nuance which
    made me “get it”.

    I went from full immersion on the streets of Detroit to learn basic survival skills like “sizing” someone up in 5 seconds or less.

    Business has been the Master Class for surprise endings.
    It was usually the one I thought could be trusted that I later kicked myself for not getting “half down” up front.

    • John Carlton says:

      One of the driving forces in my “need” to teach is exactly that, Bob — no one ever sat me down and told me jack shit while I was growing up. I just assumed you had to figure it all out for yourself. And I got royally pissed when I learned some of my friends had cool uncles who took them aside and laid it out, plain and simple. Sex, dealing with assholes, transitioning to adulthood, how to smoke and drink and curse correctly…

      The guys who had “that uncle” got to skip so much nonsense early in life, that I thought I’d take on the job for anyone who needed it here on the blog for a while.

      PS: My own nephews are two of the coolest dudes you’ll ever meet.

  • Prefer Anonymity (They're Watching Me) says:

    I spent 10+ years working for a remorseful sociopath who has a long tail of burned businesses and opportunities. Once the project I was involved in came crashing down like an out-of-control jet plane, the fog suddenly lifted, and has turned me into an azz as you described yourself, and a little cynical. My wife says I’ve become more like a grumpy old man who just says what he thinks.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, it sucks getting old, and you just wanna take advantage of people expecting you to be grouchy, and be grouchy.

      Still, life is better when you drop the cynicism. You can still rail at idiocy, but you don’t need BS ideology to rely on… because you’ve got reality.

      PS: Every single political ideology out there is a load of crap. Not because they set out to create nonsense… but because the nature of co-existing in the concrete jungle requires even knuckleheads to have their say (when they get enough power, or money)… and to stay sane, you must realize that 90% of your fellow humans are self-deluded (and at least 20% are batshit)… and we will never live in a rational world. Just not gonna happen.

  • Hi John – I just discovered you today through a podcast interview you did with Copyblogger. I came back after listening to you during my walk (you were so interesting I forgot I was even walking uphill), and immediately looked up your website. I have now spent more time with you today than with my own children, but I have no regrets. It’s been thoroughly eye-opening and entertaining. I’ve forwarded this post to my oldest daughter as she begins to navigate her way in the world. You’ve said it so much better than I could. This should be required reading for all. I promise to spend some quality time with my ignored children tomorrow, but I’ll be coming back for lots more of your genius. Thank you!!!

  • Michael says:

    Damn. Nice rant, John.

    I’ve got a rock-and-roll quibble for ya, though:

    It’s “politesse,” not “politics.”


    • John Carlton says:

      Of course, you’re right. Mick Jagger showing off his upper-class twit skills.

      But I get to choose how I interpret lyrics, cuz it’s my blog. I just discovered that Iggy Pop never sang “dance like hypnotized chickens” — he sang “that’s like hypnotizing chickens”, which is nowhere near as cool. So I just keep spreading the incorrect lyric, which I think is much better. Long history of people changing lyrics in songs, you know. Pisses off the songwriter to no end, but how else can you sing a Bob Dylan tune?

  • Ken C says:

    Your points make a lot of sense, in fact when you described sociopaths, a couple of people in my industry instantly leapt to mind; people with shiny smiles and hands in unsuspecting folks’ wallets to be cautious of; charming but dangerous.

    I like that you write about the truths of life, and situations. Not better nor worse than it is, but As it actually is; a dose of reality. Many people don’t want to believe that there’s so many dark-siders, since it doesn’t fit with their idealization of how people in civilized society should be… and those blinders cause problems.

    Unfortunately, as I tell family members and colleagues, this ain’t the Wild West where the villians are dressed in easy-to-see black clothes and the hero is dressed in white.

    There’s a lot of sociopathic bad people out there (running the gamut from incompetent time wasters, not bad-intentioned; to those who do bad things like promise to email their entire lists for jvs but only mail partial blasts, to those who do much more ill).

    So my solution is to remain largely insulated, trying to work with only the top-respected and best known people in the industries I enter, because often those who get to the top, And Stay Relevant to their niches, are also decent people. The ultimate acid test is behavior; what do they actually Do, over time? And that’s the character gauge… actions always speak louder than words; being patient and observing folks for awhile often tells me all I need to know. Shame everyone’s not decent folks, but there you have it. Thanks as always for writing in a compelling way that inspires thought; and response.

    to Diogenes-like finding the honest out there,


  • Thomas says:


    Reading this post I just realized that I am a certified cynical sociopathical asshole(CSA)!

    Most of these losers who know me would agree, but I don’t really give a shit as I’m going to kill them all anyways.

    I’m starting to think that copyrighting may be the ideal career change for me as I can easily and personally relate to all 3 types -depending on whom I am at that particular moment. -No more medication or excuses going to hold me back!

    Great post. Time to rehearse my alibis and sharpen the knifes.


    Thomas, Michael & Lisa

  • Dan says:

    Hey John,

    Great post. I was wondering if you could be a bit more specific of how “a totally-misguided or envious meme can get started trashing an otherwise good movie, and kill it dead.”

    Any examples on this? I know some movies simply have trouble getting exposure or are too “niche” to get the public’s eye, but I haven’t noticed cynics actively killing a movie that would have been successful otherwise.



    • John Carlton says:

      “Bonnie And Clyde” comes to mind. Easily one of the best of the “new breed” movies coming out of the suddenly uncensored “New Hollywood” late-sixties-era — completely trashed on first release, sent to the archives. Finally re-released a year later, the rest is history.

      Really, though, Dan, you can Google this stuff yourself, you know. Here’s the first site that came up for “classic films trashed by critics”:

      The more important point is how, at times in history (which repeats itself), the professional critics (movie critics, political pundits, social “scolders” like big-headed religious leaders) get so caught up in their own sense of power and outrage, that they become Little Hitlers, no longer caring about quality and just angling to increase their own star power. Check out Hedda Hopper (40s movie critic who could kill a film with one review) — great tale there.

      Also consider food critics. There’s a huge scandal right here in River City, where the local newspaper keeps sending out unqualified food critics to new restaurants, who are more interested in seeing how evil they can be than they are interested in good food. The articles are clever, filled with lies and errors, and they’ve caused businesses to get hurt. Somebody’s gonna get killed…

  • Paul Hoffman says:

    Hey John…great words of wisdom and way to tell it like it is. See you at 25k

  • John,

    I’m aware of shit behaviour, and recently worked with a genius, a charming sociopath – just as you describe. I also realized that I was a probably just a handy piece of equipment making him millions, no more, no less.

    So I left.

    I’m a little more wised up now, but after reading this, not sure how I’m going to get that hip!

    But.. here goes.


  • Geoff Dodd says:

    John, thanks for that quick dose of education for NOW. It was like intravenous injected flow .. I’m left thinking there are parallel dimensions for us primates: the jungle trials of threat and posture, the strong and the clever, then a pyramid-point transcendence of love, harmony and integrity. Shake me. I’m still dreaming and cocooning. Step up for the mystery tour.

    • John Carlton says:

      When you board the Magic Bus, headed for the Mystery Tour (where they teach you the Mystery Dance), you’ll soon be 2,000 light years from home, like a rolling stone.

      Boom shak-a-laka laka, boom shak-a-laka laka…

  • Steve Amos says:

    Great rant and informative.
    I started naive, but realizedI was and took my time to decide. Good negotiation skill to develop by the way.
    Been a shade tree wrench turner since 15, and still been taken twice. Sure there are other industries for sociopaths, but…
    Please write about your experiences gaming the systems. Looking forward to those posts as well.

  • Stan says:

    Great rant, john. It resonated with my views. I live by a few rules I’ve gleaned from life.

    – I may not approve of what people do, but accept them for who (and what) they are.
    -I keep my hopes high and my expectations low. I may be pleasantly surprised, but I’m never disappointed.
    -Judge people by their actions, not by their words.

    My favorite relative and my best friend have both lied to me at one point or another. I still consider them dear, but they have since stood in a different place than they did before.

    Always loved the song from the Beatles… “the fool on the hill, Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, See the world spinning ’round.”…

    Recognize people for what they are. You can’t change them.

    • Geoff Dodd says:

      Of course, Stan, the ‘fool on the hill’ is the rare non-fool. He’s acutely attuned to the rhythms of the universe and its Big Picture. I guess you were pointing that out? Love it. Keep that grin on your face.

  • Great post! I guess techniques of persuasion are never value neutral – they are always attempting to persuade after all, but they do not speak of the deeper underlying motives and values. I loved the book ‘Working with Monsters’ by John Clarke, who worked initially as a criminal profiler for the state police in Australia and later as a consultant to businesses. In this latter role, he was brought in to identify and get rid of workplace psychopaths/sociopaths. It amazed me how much difficulty there was to prove what they were doing and to remove them. Often it was appealing to their desires for power and self aggrandisement to lure them out of the business and into something better, without actually ever bringing them to task. You can feel really stupid after having been taken advantage of by someone like this but it helps to realise you are dealing with someone who is not wired the up the way you are, so you cannot project your motives onto them (unless of course you are a sociopath too).

  • John, this was fantastic.

    I read, “The Sociopath Next Door” last month.

    I think we all find sociopathic tendencies in our personalities from time to time, and reading a book like that made me wonder whether I have more of those tendencies than I’d want to admit.

    In the end, I realized that even though I can be harsh, extremely anti-social at times, and can be an asshole, that’s not even close to being a sociopath.

    I’m more loving than I ever am harsh, and like you said about Gary, I’m far harder on myself, than I could ever bring myself to be on another person.

    Empathy is the key, I think.

    I suppose all I’m doing here is psychoanalyzing my own self on your comments, John, but that’s probably a common reaction after reading a post like this.


    P.S. I had also watched the film, “I Am Fishead” over the same time that I read, “The Sociopath Next Door”. I’m sure you have watched it, but others who read this post may want to see it as well.

    Here is the trailer:

    • John Carlton says:

      I’ll be damned — I didn’t know about the book “The Sociopath Next Door” — I thought I was being clever with my subject line in the email. An obvious lift that lots of writers probably had (from “The Millionaire Next Door”, also a good book).

      Yeah, one sign you’re NOT a sociopath is when you analyze yourself and put your own quirks and deep desires under a microscope — this is what normal, high-intelligence, self-aware people do. I think most good-hearted people are kind of appalled of at least one or two things they did as kids, before the rules of co-existing with others really settled in. I still recall saying some things that hurt people I loved (without understanding at all why it was hurtful), and I vividly recall my own Lord Of The Flies moments as part of a hellion gang… and it’s all good. We DO have rules, meant to keep us from murdering each other too easily, and most of those rules are good. (For example, while too many kids today aren’t being taught to say “please” and “thanks”, those simple words are among the relationship tools that are REQUIRED if you want to rise in society… and you can be sure every single evil bastard on the planet uses them, because they work as a social lubricant.)

      We’re all just one tic away from committing road rage. All horror and fantasy novels are based on the dark sides of our natures battling the good sides. There never is a time where you can relax and say “Whew, I’m finally a finished person”.

      Thanks for the link to the trailer…

  • Patrick says:

    My mate come up with this saying (which I’ve tweaked a bit)

    In Business, “trust” means either weakness or laziness!!

    • John Carlton says:

      It doesn’t have to mean that, though. When you trust lazily, as default position because you don’t want to take the time to look further… then shame on you. You’re taking the easy road, and you’ll suffer consequences.

      Life is complex. It can still be lived well, and you can go after big dreams. You just can’t do it with your eyes shut, oblivious of consequences.

  • rob says:

    From Rob Joy
    Cold as buggery in Australia
    Even colder near the damn beach!…
    250 meters East of Glenelg Beach,SA
    Queens holiday long weekend (in Australia)

    Dear JSC

    First want to ask you if you could go little deeper on stuff like this, not Dr Phil deep maybe other areas related to this which some of us may experience.

    This post was like 30 + year learning curve all in 5 or so minutes it took me to read it, I could not take my eyes away from the laptop.

    I’ve prob seen parts of me (in the way I may have behaved/acted) each of the areas you have touched on.

    Without even being aware of what I was doing…Ive also ntoiced (more so in the past) Ive modified my behavour…

    Most of the way I use to carry on was little bit influnced by choosing the wrong person to share my life with…

    Not that she was like all out mega nut case or anything they do say people who are very close to you sometimes can influence the way you sometimes act and behave…

    I suppose now, I have had time to find the re-set button and purge all the bullshit from my head and smooth the roar edges left over from roller costa child hoold filled with high level of trauma…

    I can clearly see life way different, I’m not sure if it was you or Gary that said in the past that there are two types of people those that do live their life very close to the roar edge of reailty and those who do not.

    After looking back and after learning what I have bout myself all I can say is I’d rather live on the razors line to reality than one of pure friggin bullshit.

    Strang how when Ive read ur post they seem to be hitting me right between the eyes like loving lapel rattling we all need, which on reflection wish I had much sooner…

    Now I look for the seed of wisdom in your rants see how those seeds of wisdom can purge more bullshit outta me, and give me advanced insight into this is how life really is.

    I feel fortunate to have been this aware now than to have gone onto living like I used to knowing how I used to behave and carry on was not going to get me to where I wanted to be…

    So, thanks! I really appreciated this post-suppose Ive been doing lot of looking back to see how not to repeat past mistakes which where priceless learning curves but to also forge fresh direction toward new path…

    I started to get on that track when I came across Gary, way back in early 2000’s, there was something bout him in his newsletters which at that time where free to read online…something in his voice on the audio’s something bout how he spoke…

    That locked me into listening to what he had to say…

    Since than Ive started to read ur stuff, which is almost the same path as Gary with ur own voice which has the same postive effect…

    Cheers mate!


  • rob says:

    P.S I was on Skype with Bond he showed me the catalouge for late Les Pauls estate which gave me hard on!….there was 300 or so of his guitars…and other bits his family wanted to get rid of…did you catch wind of it? here is the link off facebook…..

  • Hi John, what an outstanding article. I didn’t just read it, I lived in it for a while this morning. It’s easy to see the wisdom in your words.

  • Sandy says:

    I am not sure how I got on to your list in the first place, but have been on it since September 2010. I don’t know why, but I have never gotten around to reading and keeping track of your blog posts. Yet, for some reason, I decided to read this one.

    It hit home big time especially the comment:

    “Gary Halbert and I developed this attitude we called “being an optimistic pessimist”… which meant we braced for the worst in any given project, rooted for the best results possible, and accepted what happened… knowing the only real measure was whether we did everything we could to make it successful.”

    This is a lesson I have learned painfully over the years and has often left me feeling lonely and alone, especially during the times when I have been taken for a nasty and expensive ride by someone I thought I could trust, which has happened far to often for comfort.

    While my innate optimism refuses to allow me to ever give up, my learned pessimism has taught me to take everything that anyone offers to do for me, or advise me on, (all for a financial consideration of course) with a very large spoonful of salt.

    Now I work alone, very rarely asking for help or advice, rather I simply and doggedly work out how to do things for myself even if it does happen to take me a long time.
    I “know” that in the end, I WILL be successful in what-ever I choose to do.

    Thank you for a thought provoking rant. As time goes on, I will be going through your archives looking for more of of your rather interesting “lessons”.

  • Dave Bross says:

    Wow! thanks for filling in the gray area.

    I had always sussed out sociopaths by lack of empathy but this definitely colors outside those lines…and is obviously correct when thinking back on some “special” people I’ve had to deal with over the years but couldn’t quite pin down what was going on. Advanced skills.

    Interesting point on politics and wall street being heavily loaded that way. That would explain a lot of what goes down.
    My first (and last) brush with deep politics was the student radical days of the 60s-70s and remembering the ones who were all about blowing things up in spite of who might be hurt or killed. The same ones would do anything for the power.

    I suspect one of the only reasons our system has made it this far is that it tries (and lately, fails) to keep too much power from accumulating in one place.
    The naked ape doesn’t do well with power.

    Another little “Cliffs Notes” sort of tool for spotting the worthwhile ones. Mostly a summary of what’s laid out here. They’ll have only one of four basic responses to things:

    I don’t understand
    My mistake, how do I fix it?

    Thanks to all for the other book suggestions.

    And since we’re talking books, check out “Deep Survival, Who Lives, Who Dies and Why” by Laurence Gonzales.

    It applies here because one thing he points out is that those who had predators in their lives, particularly as children, are way better equipped to survive.

    What doesn’t kill us makes us smarter/stronger.

  • Kathy St Martin says:

    Hi John,
    Thanks so much for the rant. I’ve struggled for a long time being too compassionate with those that did not deserve it. Now I toss all that up to my karma quotient, making more deposits that withdrawals.
    My ‘gorillas in the zoo’ observatory was running a rollicking business of multiple, low-budget rentals.(I call them furless creatures)
    Initially my Pollyanna, “if you give someone a chance they will fix their situation and learn to do the right thing” mindset cost me a ton. Financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
    Getting angry didn’t work…”put the gun down” (I’m not kidding). And while drinking was fun, it didn’t accomplish much.
    While I wasn’t savy enough to know these “types” had names like sociopaths, etc., I did manage to figure a few things out…
    If you want to see how people will treat your stuff, look in their car.
    How they will treat you? Look in the eyes of their kids, or their significant other.
    How your future interactions will be? Interrupt them while they are speaking and talk over them.
    If you can’t dominate the conversation and they keep talking…run far and fast.
    If they are blabbing on about what they are going to do and how well they will take care of everything, they are telling you exactly what they will not be doing.
    If they immediately start complaining about
    the last person they did business with, well, those are expections that can never be met.
    Regarding the “critics” – it brings to mind a quote:
    “those than can – do, those that can’t -teach… which is incorrect and demeans our teachers.
    It should be “those that can – do, those that can’t – criticize”.
    Thanks for all the good vibes you share.

  • Rob says:

    Reminds me of two stories.

    One in Managua, Nicaragua starting with a guy “limping” and using a broomstick for a crutch, followed by 5 of his friends. Took me a tenth of a second to take evasive action before the situation grew worse.

    Second, on a stretch of highway in Panama (lost, by the way) after a blowout at 3:30am. Pulled over to the side of the road to fix the flat, and then a guy hopped from behind a tree to help me out. I had already popped the trunk and had crowbar in hand…but didn’t feel the need to use it.

    He helped fix the flat and pointed me in the right direction.

    I knew I was safe in Panama and headed for a serious ass whooping in Nicaragua because of the points you illuminated just now.

    Those aren’t just business skills. Those are survival skills.

    Good stuff John!

  • Jack Harris says:

    John, in addition to your nephews being two of the “coolest dudes”, someday they will realize how lucky they are for their first-hand exposure to your raw truths.

    Your insight and sharing has given them a gift that will last a lifetime!

    Speaking of cool dudes, have you seen Frank Kern’s newest promo?

    In one of the videos, he looks happier than a kid on Christmas morning while playing with the “toy” that you sent him!

  • Mike says:

    John, Great Rant. Worked a lot in the music industry as both a muso and engineer, and encountered just about every variety of shyster in creation.
    Then I married a wondeful woman who had the uncanny ability to spot these life-suckng a-holes a mile away.
    Needless to say, not in the music or media biz any more!

  • Bernie says:


    Gary Halbert wrote about an experience he had with a classic sociopath by the name of DuSean Berkich, when he wrote about the water ad sales letter.

    DuSean literally drove an innovative young company into the ground…along with quite a few others. DuSean’s last stand came when he tried to buy the small Bank of Saipan.

    After he, and another “partner” looted the bank, he was arrested…and late committed suicide.

    The high level political arena is filled with sociopaths and a**holes.

    As always…a great post.

  • Danny Flood says:

    Assholes are my favorite type of people. As long as you don’t try to BS them, then you got nothing to fear… though you may have to pass their “no BS” tests to get through their radar (like a fistfight to show you’re legit).

    Assholes can become best friends for life, once you get through the bullshit radar. Sociopaths are the ones you need to watch out for – the social climbers. And you put it perfectly, they’re just out to use you until (they think) your usefulness to them is spent.

    To their credit though, their ambition often takes them places… but at a cost to everyone around them. So, is it better to be lonely at the top or slightly less successful with a wealth of positive, long-term, healthy relationships with those whom you have the potential to care about and who care about you?

  • Jimbo Curley says:

    Wow. This post is so jam-packed with brain-igniting gunpowder that any biz owner or writer should read it at least twice.

    I’ve read this twice — the black AND the white – because what’s going on between the lines here is pure gold.

    I myself worked as a “door to door” salesman. One year I sold a vinyl repair service to used car salesman, (and discovered that selling to people who understood and appreciated the sales process was actually EASIER).

    For another two years I sold newspaper ad space to mom and pop operations.

    You want learn sales? Pull up to a mini-mall and cold pitch every business owner. I found out rather quickly that the secret was providing immediate, tangible, and easy-to-recognize VALUE to the prospect, (more about that some other time).

    Personally, I am still astonished to encounter straight-up sociopaths and rip-off artists. It happens – and I’m usually floored by it.

    But my own experience has been that most screw-ups and conflicts (that have the potential to injure people or end up in court), are over plain incompetence.

    And I’m not talking about technical stuff — like not building a webpage properly, or being incapable of getting your sales funnel dialed in.

    I’m talking about the basics. Like not returning phone calls or emails. Showing up late (or not at all) for meetings. Missing deadlines. Handling money stupidly.

    This stuff eventually kills a business.

    Other trip-wires include unrealistic expectations and magical thinking, (the end result being major disappointment).

    Okay… John… I could go on for another ten pages here, (I won’t), but this post is friggin’ awesome.

    Got my grey-matter firing… as usual.



  • Brett Allen says:

    This should be a required primer for all people who get involved in cults.

    You have described cult mentality to a “T” – the guy who smiles at you while he plunges a knife in your back.

    Good stuff here John. Not just for biz, but for life.

  • Graham says:

    Great post. I resonate with “many of my now best friends in the world were at first, huge assholes”. I found lots of sociopaths and assholes in the corporate world, smile while looking into your eyes as they plunged the knife into your back as you turned round. Probably even became one myself to some degree. But I have always had a thirst for information and knowledge and am my harshest critic so I kept looking for the good in people, how to improve myself myself and recognise the good and the bad (often in teh same person). My dad tried to tip me off on this early in my life but somehow I didn’t believe him as I guess I was too idealistic and had to find out for myself. Slowly through running my own business I think I am learning what to look for to spot the different types of people and grasp a bit more reality. Keep on writing these amazingly insightful posts.

  • Lazarus Ross says:

    Awesome post John! Thanks a lot for the insight. It’s EXTREMETLY helpful!

  • Sean p says:

    Hey JC,

    Freaky, weird reality setting in! I’m finding myself surrounded by people self examining their roles and lives and trying to come to terms with their own misgivings and frailties.

    There seems to be this fascination with psycho’s and nut jobs everywhere I go. Have you ever come across a guy called Thomas Sheridan? He’s an Irish dude that counsels victims of psychopaths and has written two excellent books on the subject, also look out for Kevin Dutton, he plotted the psychopath map of the UK recently.

    Being a sales trainer, I find your insights similar to my own although I’d get roasted for coining the phrase salesmanship in the Über PC corporate world I work in.

    stay frosty!

    • John Carlton says:

      What do you call it, then? Salesbeing? Consumer-enhancement-agent? Cashflow-enabler?

      Yeah, I tried writing “salespersonship” one time, a decade or so ago, and immediately went back to salesmanship. I’m a feminist from way back (I got enlightened in the dorm), and I’m all for kicking the Old Boys Club out of power… but language is too important to be PC with. You can tell from the trollz in the comments here how you’ll never please everyone, no matter what you do.

      Might be time to reread 1984 again. Remember how language manipulated is communication denied…

  • David Zandueta says:

    Read this through the Warrior Forum. Can’t disagree with anything you wrote here, even though it does seem “sucky” at first.

    Speaking of FBI, you ought to read John Douglas’ Mindhunter if you haven’t yet. That’s where I also eventually (and weirdly) learned how to understand human behavior, but thankfully without having to do material harm.

    Thanks for writing, John. I’ll be checking your blog from now on. 🙂

  • wayne harrel says:

    Not to forget that Steve Jobs was also an asshole, but you’re right about the azzhole scale. Sometimes the genius is hidden behind and assholeness is a mask.

  • Dee Watcher says:

    thank you for sharing.
    You seem to be improving since 2008.
    Other than your cursing and defiling many with
    your foul language-is it frustration?tryin to make a point?would you read this to your mother and daughter??-
    you seem to have made some progress..
    Hope the rest of 2012 turns out better for you……A distant fan….

    • John Carlton says:

      Ah… and the cynical azzhole trollz make their appearance, late in the game…

      • lol funny i though the use of foul language was very appropriate and nicely placed as I was losing my focus as I was reading the article and just wanted to get the main points out. It made me engaged. This post by this person is very ironic …very funny

    • Jee says:

      I like this! John’s language moves from clue to clue, goes beyond boundaries, which are mental, but not mentalistic. Some progress, indeed.

  • Julie Downey says:


    Many thanks for this post!

    You helped shore me up today since I was dealing with that ‘Type #2’ sociopath variation you so aptly described.

    The one who has (quoting you here but it totally fits) “loads of charm and impeccable manners” and even though he feels guilt and shame, does the irresponsible thing anyway…

    I figured out how to deal with him and your post validated that I handled it an effective way, so thank you, really helpful!

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Julie. Women probably have to deal with duplicity more than men, and it starts earlier. Men reward each other at young ages when they can trick or fool a woman into sex. Notches on the belt, and damn the consequences. Or, feel guilty later (especially when you realize your evil pals are hitting on your sister!), but keep doing it anyway.

      Women aren’t immune from adopting sociopathology as an operating system. Good god, the stories I could tell you.

      But, while you’re young and in the mating game full-time, it’s a battle zone out there.

      Thanks for the note. Stay frosty.

  • mark grove says:

    Guess I can admit admit that I am bad for being a Big-Fat Cynic. But I do know we need
    regular folks who don’t know any better, sociopaths and psychopaths.

    And, getting my offline business going in profit mode is very challenging even when my readers agree with everything I’m saying in a report or article. So I’m grateful for the people who are my followers despite their neurotic tendencies to back off buying from buying from me ever.

    Just human nature I guess John. Thank you for this illuminating piece on what people are really like, and how to approach it all
    with a good attitude,despite the fact that most people don’t know shit.

    Ah hell,maybe I don’t know shit. Who knows?

    • John Carlton says:

      You know, Mark, I think most smart people go through periods of cynicism. In college, you’re actually rewarded for it. In adult life, it’s the “safe” position to take — don’t attempt to break any new ground, don’t put yourself in a position to fail, don’t rock the boat… and mock those who do strive for something more. You’ll have plenty of grumbling company, rooting for others to fail so you can look superior for never having tried.

      It’s a tempting position to take, and too many people sample it, like the rewards, and adopt it as permanent. The rare person seeking more will, at some point, have a moment of self-actualization and change. Those are the ones to hitch your wagon to…

  • Hi Sir,

    Great article. I feel that the advise you give here is so valuable but unfortunately one cannot appreciate it’s value unless you have had an experience with one of the types expressed above.
    Many people may think an asshole is a sociopath, but a true sociopath is really dangerous. I have encountered 2 in my life as a business man.

    The first one when completely under the radar, super nice guy , almost with a philanthropist personality it would seem, fostering as many as 4 children, and wealthy.

    Here was a clue I didn’t see at first this person loved to influenced others with some position or statue beneficiary to him with his money and get him to be liked because what his money could do for them.

    It would seem as he struggled developing friendships and had to resort to being overly nice to others and helping them financially in order to be liked.

    Second clue: Never argued about any point, always agreed with every subject you would discuss or anyone as a matter of fact. If you liked Republicans so did him, If you liked Democrats so did him.

    I am a coach so at times at being a harsh prick saying the hard reality is necessary to take my students to higher levels of success. This guy would look for the broken ones and seduce them and even after I got rid of him he continued to do this for a while through the power of FACEBOOK.


    I started reading a bit about personality types. I really care to improve the life of all my students and being betrayed by some of them and dealing with this sociopath took a beating on my soul.

    I still need to research more on this subject but I am a big fan of it as I understand the value of it.

    The second time I had encounters with a sociopath I was able to identify earlier, but unfortunately I still gave him the benefit of the doubt for way too long and it also affected the business to a lesser amount, but still.

    I really value your advice, and article and completely relate on the feeling of “having to learn on your own”. This article makes me happy to know my mind was evolving in the right direction that is necessary to succeed in this life and in business.

    I have heard of you before as an amazing copywriter and this is obvious from this article and the way that is written. This is the first time i have actually read some of your work. Nevertheless I am very impressed by your insight and know one ever told me about this.

    What books would you recommend to someone who wanted to dive deeper in this subject aside from the ones mentioned in the article or in the comments.

    Roberto Torralbas

  • Ian Jones says:

    What a classic and in real JC speak! I am in self flagellation mode rte the “types” that you describe here…and I have been inluenced and touched and had by most of them whilst my Angels had to work overtime to reduce the damage suffered…years later and smarter may I repeat the words of wisdom given me by the old hoolywood actor Dick Curtis when we met not long ago in Sedona AZ. “Never look behind yer cause yer never know what might be gainin’ on yer”…I use it all the time now as it releases me from those that I was intigued and used by in the past…the future is looking good tho’ Bro”. Thanks for the great blog post JC.

  • Todd Shore says:

    Well I must say,A blog like this should be required reading for every kid starting out in life! I happen to know a socialpath personally who plays with peoples feelings and uses them like you wouldnt believe. The part I find funny is you try to warn these people before they become victims,and they dont believe you or they say what do you mean hes a great guy! LOL… Then after they get taken advantage of wonder how it happened. Life is funny and it takes all kinds of people to make up a world good ones and bad. But then agian lets be honest if you didnt have assholes and socialpaths and all the other knuckle draggers outthere to deal with,life just wouldnt be as fun! Thanks John For the great read!

    • “try to warn these people before they become victims,and they dont believe you or they say what do you mean hes a great guy!”

      LOL Yes, when I was dealing with a sociopath it was amazing to me how good he was at manipulating and flying under the radar of so many people. Most of humanity analyzes situations at a low level and are super naive.

      They don’t realize that everyone has an agenda, nothing in life is free…

      So far reading other people’s situation has helped me refine my radar for sociopaths.

  • Pete Moring says:

    Great post John – Human Behaviour – I LOVE it 🙂

    Re; The Assholes – Kid I knew from age 6 or 7 who has been a total Asshole all his life. Did all the drugs from age 13, had at least 3 near fatal OD’s, has always drunk to excess, would steal from his own parents, would let anyone and everyone down at the drop of a hat, get you into fights and arguments (on his behalf without warning) and the list is just never-ending.

    He just wouldn’t recognise remorse for his actions if it jumped out and smacked him in the mouth, but the strange ting is – he has managed to keep all of his old ‘friends’ including me (as friends) – How the bloody hell does that happen??

    His wife has had to attend the ‘special STD clinic’ several times now, but say one bad word against him and you feel the wrath of her tongue 🙂

    I like to think I’m a good judge of character and I can usually put people into their ‘boxes’ fairly quickly and treat the accordingly – But how does a person manage to ‘magnetise’ themself to others in the way my friend has managed to do all his life?

    We’re both now in our early 60’s so it’s a bit like a ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ sketch now – but your thoughts would be welcome John 🙂

    Cheers – pete.

  • Dave Bross says:

    We are all hardwired with a very strong subconscious desire to be needed…and to be noticed and understood. That’s where the con men and the psychopaths are “playing your tune”… Until it’s time to cash you in or to continue to cash you in if you’ll let them.

    There’s an expensive book out there (almost $100)”The Forbidden Keys to Persuasion” by Blair Warren. It’s not at any of the mainstream book sellers but you can find it via search engine. The website for the book is an old school long salesletter type of site that looks like a leftover from the early 1990s, so don’t be put off by that.
    It’s worth every penny if you want to understand your subconscious/unconscious weaknesses and triggers and how you will be conned if you don’t spot these in action.
    Lots of real life examples included to demonstrate the points made.

    I’m an old hand at doing business in scam infested environments (scrap metal, art, vehicle repair)and always felt it would be very tough to con me…until I read this.
    Ouch! I was wide open and ready to be taken to slaughter in a couple of areas.
    Humbling indeed.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Dave. Adult life, when you live it fully aware and ready to engage with life at all times, is FULL of “ouch” moments. You’ll have them until your ticket gets punched. They’re actually enjoyable, however, once you realize that the momentary pain goes away, and what you’ve done is transition to a new stage of understanding something.

      If I ever get to a point where I think I know it all, I’m toast. But I also know that the universe will sooner or later deliver a bruising “ouch” moment to set me straight… The sting reminds me that I’m alive…

      • Dave Bross says:

        Yup, it took a while to realise the “ouch” moments were the major clues to what I need to be looking at/working on.

        It’s like the joke about common sense being so uncommon it’s like a superpower now.

        It’s just clues ignored.

  • Cool But Slightly Shady says:

    Wow… In chess this series of insights would be term a “brilliancy”.

    Thanks “Unc”!

    • John Carlton says:

      Well, I don’t know if it’s “brilliant” or not… it’s just a reflection of my long career studying this crap maybe a little more intensely than others (cuz I had to, in my field of freelancing). But thanks. Appreciate the note.

  • Joe says:

    Want to first say I enjoy your blog and believe you’re an honest man. But I’m detecting some incongruity here.

    Does that “Rot in Hell” apply to your buddy Frank Kern? I’ve been hearing a lot of not so nice things about this guy…

    Here’s what Ken McCarthy had to say: “Frank Kern is one of the most poisonous things that ever happened to IM”. From what I understand FK was influenced greatly by Dan Kennedy’s teaching. So it looks like he took that knowledge and did not so nice things with it.
    A perfect example of taking “powerful salesmanship secrets” and doing bad with it. Just what you don’t want to happen.

    I may be wrong, but to me, it comes off like a politician who crusades against organized crime but has gangster friends. If I’m wrong on this I apologize. Just a bit confused.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Joe. I have a fairly unique insider’s perspective of how the Internet marketing world was created and played out to its current state — I wrote my big damn “how to write an ad” book (Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel) right when the Web was arriving as a legitimate marketing medium, and it was embraced by massive mobs of entrepreneurs who needed exactly what I was teaching. (The main turning point for the Web was when people felt safe using credit cards, and joints like PayPal appeared alongside Google’s search engine’s maturity. When pay-per-click marketing arrived, the Brave New World of online marketing took off like crazy, circa 2004.)

      So, I was on the inside of the marketing world even before IM was viable. My transition from “just a copywriter” to “guru teaching others how to do it” relied on speaking at seminars — I was a featured speaker at several of McCarthy’s event, several of Dan Kennedy’s (Dan used to be the keynote speaker at the events Gary Halbert and I hosted in the early 90s), and at several of Frank Kern’s (as well as dozens of other seminars, by top guys like Rich Schefren, Ed Dale, James Schramko, etc). None of these relationships are permanent — I haven’t talked to either Kern nor McCarthy in years now. But I’ve recently re-established a long-dormant relationship with Dan Kennedy. It ebbs and flows. We’re colleagues, not bosom buddies.

      I remain on good terms with all of these guys, though… who, in many cases, are competitors of each other within niches… because I never get drawn into the politics of business life. It’s not my job to review their business practices. My job has been to help my customers learn how to write copy, and direct them to good sources of advice or products when appropriate.

      When it comes to who said what about somebody else, I don’t pay much attention. Privately (and I’ve said this multiple times in this blog), the personalities in the online marketing world swing from bat-shit nutso to brilliant, and back again (sometimes inside the same guy’s head). Every single guru out there has detractors, supporters, stalkers and varying combinations of happy/angry customers. The marketplace has a fairly effective way to sorting out the good from the bad, eventually. And I ALWAYS tell prospects to look deep at whatever they’re buying… and I have even barred people from buying my stuff (or attending my events) after discovering they were not in a financial position to do so. I’ve written many times my philosophy on this: Don’t go into debt buying something on the notion that it will “save” you. That’s dumb. Instead, set up a special savings account (or bury money in the back yard) dedicated to providing you with a “war chest” to spend on seminars or products you want. Take on a part-time job, and put all that money in the account. Stop watching TV and partying on weekends, and save that money instead (while going deep on the free info out there, researching the new life-style or entrepreneurial adventure you’ve got your eye on). In other words, convert from a slacker who borrows and goes into debt, to an entrepreneurial mindset dedicated to making a solid, thought-out, rational life change. It may take a year to save up for a seminar, but you’ll be a better person for doing it. And you’ll learn shit along the way, like discipline, which you’ll need in biz anyway. It’s a dramatic life-change, and that year may crawl or zoom by. But it’s an infinitely better tactic than rolling the dice on something in hopes that someone else can take responsibility for your life. Slow-motion change can still seem rapid, and your radical decision to do it is still an overnight process — a “things change starting NOW” decision to stop being a slacker, and begin the process of transforming your life in a disciplined way.

      So, I’m sorry if you’re confused. But it’s a complex world out there. I’m trying to make this point clear in my blog, post after post. You CAN figure much of it out, but it’s not easy. And while good advice and good products can help, it’s still always up to you.

      And judging people — especially people you don’t know personally — is a fool’s game if all you rely on are gossip, rumor, and cynical attacks. The truth is always more complex than a pithy put-down (which may or may not have been reported correctly to you).

      The cynics pay attention to the people who complain, and ignore the people who are fans.

      I do hope that evil people run smack into their karmic destiny, and that it hurts. However, I’m not in charge of that. I can’t monitor or affect my colleagues behavior.

      As an optimistic pessimist, I don’t expect all my colleagues to be Boy Scouts. I’m thrilled when I get to know them and discover they’re really good people… and I’m bummed when they turn out to be weasels, but not surprised — the biz world brings out the demons in folks quickly. I’ve chosen to be an ethical professional, even though it’s a tougher road to take. I urge others to make the same choice, even when it’s the hardest decision before them.

      You seem to be accusing me of something here, but I’m not clear what it is. Don’t confuse “friends” with “colleagues” — those are two different things. And, as a final piece of advice: Don’t think you can go through life being “pure”, either. That’s naive and idealistic. Do the best you can, at all times. Stick to your own code of ethics, and don’t be influenced by other people’s demons (like the lust for fast money, no matter what).

      If you take a stand, on anything in life, you will arrive at crossroads over and over again. This is why you must be aware, both of how the world works AND how YOU work. (Good start: Read “Art of War”, now. You do need to jettison evil people from your life, but you also need to understand them. If you have enemies, you need that understanding all the more. I’ve tried to lead a life devoid of enemies, myself. Not easy to do. Not even the best path to take, in some cases. Your decision, though.)

      The business world is for grown-ups. Rumor, gossip and unsubstantiated cynicism is not good info, Joe.

      • Martyna says:

        “I may be wrong, but to me, it comes off like a politician who crusades against organized crime but has gangster friends.”it just reminded me of something quite fascinating…
        that is exactly what Napoleon Bonaparte did. To combat organized crime, he employed one of the worst French criminals of his time – Joseph Fouché, and made him the Minister of Police. also Maurice de Talleyrand, cold-blooded, brilliantly intelligent double-dealer served as Foreign Minister.
        they both tried to kill Napoleon at least once.

        Thank you John for this post!

        • John Carlton says:

          Art of War stuff. Thanks for the note, Martyna.

          So far, nobody’s tried to kill anybody else in the online marketing world (that I know about, anyway). But the character assassination continues apace…

  • Robert Antwi says:

    Hey John,

    Do you think if I placed a cork in someone’s ear and then shouted in the other one;

    “There is no need to be evil to make money in the westernised world”

    they world hear me and agree? Plus understand that its a total waste (In my Opinion) to pursue making money which doesn’t allow you to build lifetime customers, seeing as you can make all the money in the world if you want to, but time is priceless – they would possibly hear me?

    Cynics, I used to be around so many of them and believe they have a low amount of confidence due to being muddy cuddled and never pushed to always try to be the extraordinaire in whatever they attempted to do.

    This has helped clarify on something I had put in the back burner.

    Thank you and it was such a good read!!!

  • John,

    Loved this Rant.

    I’ve noticed that you repeatedly bring up the theme of man being a thinly veiled ape along with the theme that successful salespeople (and usually anyone who does well in this world) look at things the way the are rather than how they “should be.”

    I’ve been re-reading and taking notes on one of my favorite old-time, forgotten-because-he-criticized-Freud* hypnotists/therapists named Boris Sidis. I’m in the midst of writing an article about him, beliefs and how beliefs enable certain mental “sleights of hand.” I’m not sure if you’ve read anything by Sidis but I know of your interest in the psychology of the human mind, the underlying animal nature of mankind and your work in encouraging your readers to learn skill of recognizing things as the are (including identifying evil people), and based on those things I’d like to recommend Boris Sidis’ books to you.

    One of the Sidis books I’m taking notes on is from a commencement address he gave at Harvard regarding education (1909). While you may disagree with some of the things that Sidis has to say the resemblance of thought between you and this particular Sidis speech struck me when I read your most recent article. Here are some quotes given from a speech he gave on education…

    “We flatter ourselves that we are different in this age of enlightenment and civilization. Are we different? Have we changed? Have we a right to fling stones at our older brothers, the savage and the barbarian?… We are still savage at heart. Our civilization is mere gloss, a thin coating of paint and varnish.”

    “Professor James in a recent address told the Radcliffe graduates that the aim of a college-education is ‘to recognize the good man‘ when you see him. This advice may be good for Radcliffe young ladies; but, fathers and mothers, the true education of life is the recognition of evil wherever it is met.

    “When a man becomes contented and ceases to notice the evils of life, … he loses his hold on the powers of man’s genius, he loses touch with the throbbing pulse of humanity, he loses hold on reality and falls into subhuman groups.
    The purpose of education, of a liberal education, is not to live in a fool’s paradise, or to go through the world in a post-hypnotic state of negative hallucinations. The true aim of a liberal education is, as the Scriptures put it, to have the _eyes opened_, -to be free from all delusions, illusions, from the fata morgana of life.”

    “The cultivation of credulity, the absence of critical judgment and of recognition of evil, with consequent increase of suggestibility, make man an easy prey to all kinds of social delusions, mental epidemics, religious crazes, financial manias, and political plagues, which have been the baleful pest of aggregate humanity in all ages.”

    “In the education of man do not play on his subconscious sense by deluding him by means of hypnotic and post-hypnotic suggestions of positive and negative hallucinations, with misty and mystic, beatific visions. Open his eyes to undisguised reality. Teach him, show him how to strip the real from its unessential wrappings and adornments and see things in their nakedness. Open the eyes of your children so that they shall see, understand and face courageously the evils of life. Then will you do your duty as parents, then you give your children the proper education.”


    Thanks for the great articles you publish and for giving so many friends of mine the skills they have subsequently used to become incredibly good copywriters and street-smart business people.

    Christopher Tomasulo

    * Sidis’ thoughts on Freud’s Psycholanalysis: “Psychoanalysis excites the curiosity of the vulgar just as for thousands of years Astrology held the interest of semi-civilized nations to the detriment of the science of Astronomy. Psychoanalysis belongs to the class of dangerous superstitions, harmful to health, both social and individual. Psychoanalysis, like Palmistry or Oneiroscopy, that is, “interpretation of dreams,” imposes on the uncritical sense of the credulous public. Freudian psychoanalysis should be openly declared as a fraud. Lecky points out that superstitions are not destroyed by discussion. To start a discussion in an earnest way a common ground is required. What common ground is there between science and superstition? Superstition should be left alone to die of inanition. There is no common ground between psychoanalysis and psychopathology. That is why it is just as impossible to argue with a psychoanalyst as with a Mormon or a Mohammedan. Anyone who does not accept the dogmas and superstitions of psychoanalysis is accused of ‘resistance of hidden complexes,’ just as pious believers accuse sceptics of evil thoughts.”

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for the post, Christopher. I got my psych degree right when things were changing dramatically, and all the faults of Freudianism and non-scientific behavioral studies were bursting open like ignored wounds. I was a Jung fan (and was almost flunked by my Freud-obsessed prof because he hated — just HATED — Jung and anything metaphysical), fascinated with the pop psych behavioral stuff (my prof authored Personal Space, a ground-breaking book on social distance) and the New Age crap (prof wrote Altered States), including est, TM, gestalt confrontive sessions, Erikson, Rolfing, going back to Wm James, etc. Very confusing, but great fodder for a lifetime of observing and getting to understand humans.

      The university graduated hundreds of kids every year with psychology majors, for which there were exactly zero jobs available. (My first gig out of school: Fry cook at a bar. Second gig: Crisis intervention counselor for institutionalized teens. Burn-out guaranteed.) The kids who went on to grad school tended to be the most fucked-up (I believe they were seeking help for their own emotional problems, hoping that learning more would somehow “cure” them), and I can only imagine what kind of brain chemistry is cooked to boiling by the time most of them became practicing therapists.

      Still, I’ve used Talk Therapy over the years a lot. I have one shrink I see on a “will call” basis — he’s always glad to see me, cuz I don’t come in to bitch, but to go over proactive possibilities whenever I’m facing a life-changing moment or crossroads. It’s just a tool to get uncensored, protected and private feedback (not necessarily advice) — I pay the guy to listen to me closely. He’s also an Erikson devotee, and hypnotist, and behavioral feedback specialist (if I ever wanted any of that).

      Psych needs to just get over its rotten self-image, create two distinct categories (science-based, for neurology studies and chemically-induced problems… and better Talk Therapy training — mostly Eriksonian — for basic emotional turmoil and retraining of responses to daily life), and get on with it. Freud wasn’t a fraud, but he was winging it the entire time, and isn’t really relevant now except as a forefather to modern Talk Therapy. Jung was a little too metaphysical, but understood the need for spirituality.

      It’s complex, just like humans are complex. Variable, changeable, unreliable, all of it.

      It’s a good thing we’re so loveable…

  • Jack Harris says:

    Hi John,

    As a former “hopeless optimist” turned realist and occasional azzhole, I sometimes still cross over the line into cynicism.

    I like your concept of being an optimistic pessimist and believe it will help keep me balanced and out of the toxic self-defeating arena of the cynics.

    I learned about “the *****paths” decades ago and used to enjoy neutralizing them until I realized how much time was being wasted. Your “identify & avoid” method works much better. Do you remember the line from Dr. Stragelove which went something like “The only way to win is not to play the game”?

    You are probably already familiar the story about the hiker enjoying his walk during the first snowfall of the season who is startled by a “dead” rattlesnake.

    As the hiker raises his stick to knock the rattler off the path, he hears a pitiful weak little voice asking for help. The snake convinces the hiker that he means no harm to anyone and explains how he is almost frozen to death and just needs the hiker’s help to warm up and get back under a rock to survive the coming winter.

    The hiker feels sorry for the snake and agrees to place the snake under his coat until he can warm up and get to safety.

    As the hiker continues along the path while using his own body heat to warm the snake, he is totally immersed in nature’s wintertime beauty until he drops to his knees from a sudden sharp pain in his chest.

    As he lay on the cold ground and unable to move, the snake quickly slithers out from under the hiker’s coat to find safe haven for the winter.

    “Why did you bite me after I helped you?” screamed the hiker. “Don’t you know that there is no one out here to help me and now I am going to die a slow painful death?”

    As the rattlesnake disappears into the rocks, he yells back at the desperate hiker “You fool, you knew what I was when you picked me up!”

    • John Carlton says:

      I just saw Dr. Strangelove a month ago. One of the great movies, should be required for all smart people. More Art Of War stuff, too, in the phrase: The only way to win some battles is to not play.

      The whole concept of “winning” is not black and white. You can lose by winning, you can win by losing, you can win and get no reward, you can not even play and get a vague reward that pays off only longterm (but is worthwhile). It’s all worth going deep on, though.

      Thanks for the note.

  • Jan says:

    Brilliant, John! You must know my brother, because you described him to a T in Sociopath #1 category 🙂

    Thanks for the terrific insights…I’m gonna use ’em!

  • Jack Harris says:

    Hi John,

    I keep getting drawn back to your latest rant and it just enlighted me to see a flaw in one of my own former philosophies.

    I believed and practiced “plan for the worst and hope for the best”, but it often left me disappointed.

    Even though I already believed in & have been rewarded in situations for “taking massive focused action”, I missed the subtle difference between my old thinking and your approach of “being an optimistic pessimist… which meant we braced for the worst in any given project, rooted for the best results possible, and accepted what happened…knowing the only real measure was whether we did everything we could to make it successful.”

    The difference is in a single word; WISH vs DO—the passive vs the active!

    Thanks again!

  • Interesting insight, which leads to a different vision of the world as well. I mean the vision by dynamic concepts.
    We usually use words – that are static, although they help us to figure something out. This is our biggest fault (and advantage – what a contradiction!) at the same time and brings us to see the world as black and white, good and evil. Very brutal duality in my opinion.
    Now it’s really hard to minimize a concept to a word, simply because it may have various interpretations. Just a part of the concept can be explained through the word, while a word is only one of the many paths to the concept itself. But… What is a word? Shakespeare himself speaks about it: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
    I saw Dr. Strangelove – I love Kubrick’s works. Too much complicated to be explained with words.
    Cheers from Italy,

  • Fazila says:

    Enjoy reading your articales,always puts a smile to my face :)& alwasys somat new 2 learn…

  • Mario says:

    It sounds maybe strange with my german school english, or pathetic.

    But I really can say, I come from hell. And more than twice I asked myself of being a cynic, oder a sociopathic. And, well every end of day I need to ask myself how often I’ve been an asshole this day…:)

    Since my life change it turned into a difference. I’ve asked myself being a naive, little boy always being trapped by cynic, sociopathic and huge fuckin assholes.

    Because my bad life before, had been only black and white.

    Over the years in sales, it startet turnig grey and as I am a longcopywriter it startet to get some colors.

    Becaus then I startet recognizing human being, because of this sensible an stratetic work of reaching people.

    And then I checked, I can’t do jobs without consience. I can’t succeed without an ethic attitude.

    I call myself an optimistic realist:) Because of all the tradegies in my life, and all the disapointments and reality kills… I still love movies with happy ends:)

    Your writing is gorgeous and truly serious.

    Thanks for inspiring.


    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks, Mario. Congrats on moving past the bad spots, and finding your place in the world. From black and white, to shades of gray, to colors — nice image. Hope it continues on that good path.

      • Mario says:

        Thx, John.

        My life is pretty nice since ten years with wife an my kids. There’s no reason to change it.

        Wish you the best an I’m looking forward to reading your next post.

  • Cj says:

    Nice Article JC…

    Reminds me of one of the best books on business i ever read…

    Winning Thru Intimidation (First Edition) by Robert Ringer…

    Classic… Not To Be Missed…



    • John Carlton says:

      That was one of the first books I read when I began my career, CJ. Ringer was out there, very outrageous and in your face… a practical azzhole, in a way. He did open my eyes to ways of persuasion I hadn’t considered, but I never tried to bully anyone just for the sake of “winning”. If I used intimidation tactics, it was only to move people off a stubborn place where they were doing the wrong thing.

      My mentoring students all laugh about how tough I am with them. I challenge their assumptions, and I’m not kind about it. But you can’t become a student of mine if you have thin skin. They all actually happily share stories on who was the most humiliated by me in a teaching moment. And they do it because my tactics work — I move them off weak positions, and they grow. It ain’t pretty, but it works, and the writers I’ve personally taught include the most sought-after, highest paid and most killer in the world. (And most started out meek, with no confidence, and with mild skills.)

      The end result, in biz, is what matters. An ethical life and product or service, delivered for a fair price.

      Thanks for reminding me of that book.

  • Ben says:

    Wow, I’ve been facinated with these kind of ideas for a while, but you took it further than I’ve been on my own.

    Thanks man!

    There were some really valuable reality checks for myself

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